A non-profit foundation combines education and hands-on training while preserving national landmarks

The construction industry is in dire straits.

While the field is poised for dynamic growth over the next 10 years, economists say it will need to add a net new 800,000 employees to get back on track.

Presently, the numbers are just not there. The Great Recession shed 2.3 million skilled workers. Close to a quarter of the industry is an aging workforce — 23 percent are aged 55 or older. In addition, construction finds itself in the middle of talent wars, competing with other industries for today’s best and brightest. To keep pace in a crowded marketplace, the industry needs to take a new approach to recruiting.

This is where the Concrete Preservation Institute (CPI) could make a small but significant contribution by taking a non-traditional approach to attracting talent.

CPI is a non-profit dedicated to exposing young people, military veterans and active duty servicemen and servicewomen to concrete preservation. Founded in 2010 by Tanya Komas, Ph.D., professor emeritus at California State University Chico and former Chair of the Concrete Industry Management program, CPI partners with the National Park Service as well as industry employers like BASF to operate a learning program at Alcatraz Island and Pearl Harbor.

“In addition to the ongoing classroom and hands-on CPI curriculum, our students benefit immensely from the guidance of the BASF restoration experts,” says Komas. “I am not aware of any other place in the world that is so well-suited for the training of construction talents.”

BASF is the founding sponsor of the Field School at Alcatraz and a contributor to the Field School at Pearl Harbor. The chemical company provides financial support, concrete repair and protection materials as well as technical advice on restoration.

Together, these programs are reaching a new audience for the construction industry, providing participants with the opportunity to experience the concrete preservation field as they decide upon a career path. 

If you are looking for something unique and valuable to do, something to branch out into the concrete industry, this is an excellent program

Matthew Brittin

Military-veteran Participant, Field School at Alcatraz

The Field School is a 12-week immersive learning program where participants absorb a wide range of industry topics and then apply their learning to actual concrete structures in need of repair. Participants receive instruction from CPI’s expert staff along with experts from the National Park Service, industry leaders and restoration experts from BASF.

The curriculum begins with safety as participants complete OSHA 10, an online training course that provides in-depth instruction about safety and health hazards on the jobsite. The program includes a wide range of topics including plan reading, project management, material science, surface preparation and concrete repair approaches.

Each Field School team completes a capstone project where they are given a preservation challenge and are required to develop a strategy, create a project plan and then execute the plan from start to finish.

“You see the pictures of how things were, you see how they are now, and you return them to this functional and safe form. Every minute is rewarding here on Alcatraz,” says Danny Lakowiski, a field school participant.

The Field School at Alcatraz Island is open to people aged 18 or older and does not require previous construction experience. College students seeking an internship experience, military veterans and active duty servicemen and servicewomen are ideal candidates for the program.

In addition to the experience gained through the Field School, participants earn 480 volunteer hours through the National Park Service, gain exposure to the latest advances in concrete restoration materials, and get opportunities to interface with leaders from industry employers.

With the valuable experience they gain from the program, Field School participants who decide to enter the construction trade experience 100 percent job placement. Moreover, the work they do helps to preserve and protect historic structures for future generations.

“I benefitted from the program a lot as I learned how to handle tools and how to better communicate with my co-workers,” says participant Banessa Rios.

“If you are looking for something unique and valuable to do, something to branch out into the concrete industry, this is an excellent program,” adds military-veteran participant Matthew Brittin.

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